Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

big-prizeNeed some help with your genealogy?  Need direction? Need encouragement? Keep your eyes on the prize.

Alice Wine of Johns Island, South Carolina is credited with these words from the early days of the civil rights movement.  Various versions were sung in the battle for equal rights. Inspired by an earlier spiritual song entitled Gospel Plow, the words remind us that no matter how difficult things become, we must keep our eyes on the prize. Remember where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish. Refuse to allow problems to keep you from obtaining the prize.

I’m hesitant to use this phrase in the discussion of genealogy because of its origin. I don’t wish to lessen the struggle for civil rights in any way but I view the principle as almost universal in accomplishing anything with or without significance. If you want to get something done, obtain a goal, you must keep your eyes on the prize.

The family historian knows this struggle.

The Prize  

What’s the prize in your genealogy research? You tell me.  Why did you first get into genealogy? What are you trying to accomplish now?  Are your eyes fixed resolutely on your prize?

I was late to hunt. But I wanted to know about my father’s family because I knew so little. I needed to, as TV’s NCIS New Orleans character Dwayne Pride says, “learn things”. I now have a partial timeline for my Roberts family covering over 200 years. I have hundreds of pages of documents related to my direct line and have written several blogs about this family. I also have an equal amount of information, if not more, on my mother’s Byrd family. So, why has my research slowed to a crawl?

  • Life.  Like you, I’m busy, perhaps as busy as I’ve ever been. I’m near the end of my life’s journey and there are things I want to do, including but not limited to family research. There are, believe it or not, some things more important than genealogy.
  • Loss of focus. The reality is my family history research suffers more from a loss of focus than my busyness. I may not do as much when I’m busy with other things, but I can do some.  If I don’t, it’s probably a loss of focus.  I’ll explain more.
  • Laziness. I’m not typically a lazy person. Most of my life, however, I’ve worked more with my mind than with my hands. Watching others work so well and diligently with their hands often makes me feel lazy. In my research, I can see laziness creep in when I lose focus or things become difficult.  Laziness may also show itself in the constant clicking of internet links, chasing the “shiny objects” of genealogy, or building our family trees on the research of others without gaining the genealogical proof.

When I began

When I began, I wanted to know about my dad’s family. That was my prize. Having learned so many wonderful and at times fascinating things, I wanted to share these facts with my family and preserve their legacy for my children and grandchildren. This became my prize. It fueled the energy to begin this blog. It inspired me to take my grandchildren on family history trips. It’s the reason I may pause but can’t quit this “hobby” of family research.

Backtracking my family and leaving their stories for my children and grandchildren is still the prize on which I must keep my eyes in my genealogical research.

In my research, I discovered many stories to tell. It’s important to document these stories. What are the sources for the facts behind the story? Can others read my research and come to the same conclusions? What good is a legacy without proof? A tale? A myth?

Little Prizes

This brings me to the little prizes I must pursue to obtain my big prize. Think of it this way. If my big prize is well documented and written stories about my family left for my children and grandchildren, I need to pursue a series of smaller prizes along the way to obtain my big prize. Big prizes cannot be gained without taking many smaller steps. As I write these words, I’m reminded how many times I’ve read and heard versions of this same advice. Experienced genealogists and longtime family historians have written and shared these thoughts long before I began my sporadic research in 2012. I should apply their experience and pursue the little prizes which help me reach my big prize and document it all as I go.  Think about your own research.

  1. Have a goal. Have a goal before you boot up your computer or get in your car to go to a library or research facility. Discover and document ____________. What do you want to do? What are you trying to learn that will help you accomplish the “big prize”? the Familysearch Wiki page has an excellent article entitled “Principle of Family History Research”.  Click the title and give it a careful read. Learn more here and here.
  2. Develop a research plan to reach the goal you desire.  Amy Johnson Crow recently blogged on this subject. Other resources may be found here, here and here.
  3. Follow the Genealogical Proof Standards. If you don’t know what this is, please take time to click and read. This is the best way to create certainty about the stories we wish to pass to future generations.
  4. Write it all down.  Every fact I find will not make it into this blog but I need it recorded, documented, saved and backed up in at least two places for future generations to use

I may not always have something to say to the genealogical community at large but I’ll always have something to say to my grandchildren. I need to keep my eyes on this prize. One goal after another (small prizes) to reach one big prize. Perhaps as I do and write some of it down here, you’ll find something useful or entertaining in your own research.

Keep your eyes on your prize.

Free Help for Your Irish Research

jake-fletcherJake Fletcher is at it again.  This generous professional genealogist, educator and blogger from Massachusetts recently shared three dynamite FREE online Irish resources for researching our ancestors. He dispels the myth this is an impossible task for regular folks who can’t travel to Ireland. Check them out on his blog.

I also encourage your to follow his blog, especially if you have family lines traced through New England.

Thanks Jake!

Dealing with Discouragement in Your Genealogy

Discouragement is the companion of the family historian.  You either learn to face it or you get out of genealogy.

Genealogists and family historians come in all flavors.  They’re as different as snowflakes.  The one constant?  They all must learn to deal with discouragement.  If you’re going to stay in “the hunt” and continue your “backtracking”, you’ll need to overcome discouragement.  Believe me.  It will be worth it!

Let me frame it for us.  What are some common discouragements in genealogy?

  • The learning curve – We can’t learn fast enough to prevent mistakes costing us time and money.
  • The Cost of the hobby – Everywhere you turn, someone appears to be trying to “make a buck” off your interest in your ancestry.
  • Disinterested family members – Our families may show little or no interest and may even be antagonistic toward our research.
  • Missing courthouse documents – You put in the time and effort to go to the courthouse only to discover someone has either removed or displaced the record.
  • Burnt courthouses – Not only is one document missing but all the documents burned up in a fire over 100 years ago!
  • Online trees that propagate misinformation.
  • Online tree owners who will not reconsider their tree’s information.
  • DNA test results without trees attached to them.
  • DNA test owners who will not respond to your messages or emails.
  • Lost or corrupted files which are not backed up.
  • Allowing the undocumented work of others to waste our time going up the wrong tree – an unforced error.

Okay, that’s enough negativity.  Most of us have experienced plenty of discouragement.  It’s part of the hobby.  How do we deal with our discouragements in genealogy?

  • You might allow them to overwhelm you and force you out of the hobby. But because you’re still reading this post, I assume you want to overcome them and continue your research.
  • Cut through the clutter by choosing to focus on one family line and one goal at a time. Such as, “When did great-grandfather Ingram first arrive in the county?”  Learn, if you don’t know, how you could discover and prove this one thing and set about doing and documenting it.  You’ll soon be piling up encouragements.
  • Spend wisely.  Ask others.  Listen.  Don’t be afraid to drop a subscription for a time.  You can pick it up later.  I once bought a year’s subscription to a newspaper service.  I should have tried the free month and then stopped it when I realized it wouldn’t help me with my current family line.  It costs me but I also learned from it.  I let my Ancestry.com subscription expire at times and use those times to catch up on what I’ve gathered from their databases.
  • Don’t trust undocumented family history information. It’s a choice.  Use it as a clue but don’t trust it as a fact – until it has been proven.
  • Take some time to be grateful for the documents you’ve discovered, the history you’ve uncovered, the family you’ve met, the cousins you’ve found and the mistakes not yet made.  Gratefulness may be the greatest antidote to discouragement.

Here are some things I’m grateful for today in my genealogy research.

  • A wonderful glut of online free information to make me a better family researcher and save me time and money.
  • Incredible library and research facilities within my reach.
  • The ability to choose where, how and when I spend my resources on genealogy.
  • Family members who listen, discuss, collaborate and cheer me on in my research.
  • Hundreds of documents I’ve uncovered and retained in my research that add color and flavor to my family’s story.
  • Online tree owners who have allowed me to view their private trees and been open to answer my questions.
  • DNA tests and the wonderful cousins I’ve met (some literally) because of them.
  • The ability to back up all the files that really matter to me on an external hard drive and/or in a cloud.

So many reasons to be grateful.  So little time.  Encouragement is a choice.  Choose wisely.

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Happy backtracking!

Too Busy to Read Blogs and Newsletters? Please Think Again…

time-saverI’m too busy NOT to read blogs and newsletters.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Taking time to read the writings of others saves me both time and money in my genealogy/family history research.  You too will benefit from this fun discipline.  Here’s how.

“Time is money”, the saying goes.  Most genealogists and family researchers have significant limits of both.  How we spend our limited time and money will often determine the measure of our success.  Our success in family research is measured by uncovering our family’s story and documenting it for future generations.  If we’re going to spend the time and money discovering our family’s past, we need to spend the time to do it right.

Books, genealogy site subscriptions, seminars, conferences, research guides, genealogy software, supplies, etc. all cost us money and time.  How does reading free blogs and newsletters save us on both?

question-marks

What Can Blogs and Newsletters Do for You?

  • Provide you with time and money saving tips and tricks – for free!
  • Instruct you in a specific area of your genealogical research.
  • Inform you of other great places to find time and money saving help.
  • Connect you with others researching your family lines.
  • Show you the best use of technology in your research.
  • Alert you to upcoming events in your areas of interests.
  • Bring to your attention money saving discounts.
  • Introduce you to someone with whom you can converse about genealogy.
  • Provide genealogical case studies and models in writing family history.
  • Entertain you. That’s right, relax and enjoy the stories and foibles of others.  Laugh a little.

How to Find the Right Blogs and Newsletters

With hundreds of genealogical blogs and newsletters, how do you decide which ones to follow for their updates?

  • Think free! My paid ancestry research sites and software often come with a blog included.  I use them, but I don’t consider them free.  There are many good free sites.  They often offer products or services but you need not purchase them.
  • Use the Google search terms “genealogy blog” in your search engine. You’ll find all you need to get started.  Don’t overdo it.  Take your time, over time.  Be willing to “upgrade” and “kick one to curb” if you find others who do a better job providing you with your research needs or interests.
  • Listen for a blog in your voice. All blogs are not equal for many different reasons.  One characteristic seldom mentioned is “voice”.  Certain writers “speak” to me.  They write in a way I can “see, hear and understand”.  These aren’t the only blogs ending up in my inbox but they’re the primary ones.
  • Select blog writers who encourage you to use “best use” genealogical practices.
  • Once you find a blog that meets your criteria, see if they recommend other blogs and check those out.
  • Your favorite blogs list will always be in flux. Never be afraid to discard one blog for another that better meets your needs.

Blogs and newsletters arrive in my inbox throughout the week.  I’ve selected these for all of the reasons previously listed.  I always “peek” at these before I discard them for the day.  I want to see what they contain but I don’t always read them or all their content.  Part of my research time is set aside to determine if these particular blogs or newsletters will help make me successful.  Will they save me time or money?  The ones that make it into my inbox, by my invitation, will more often than not do both.

Be choosy.  Yes.  Save yourself some time and money.  Select the right blogs and newsletters for you.

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What Is Backtracking?

animal-tracksWhat does it mean to backtrack our kin?

Have you ever trailed an animal?  Have you tried to find and follow an animal without the ground being covered with snow?  When I was much younger, my older friend Larry Drewery put on a clinic.  We and his brother Terry “struck” the trail of a wounded animal around 9:30 pm.  In the darkness, with only a flashlight, Larry trailed him for over two hours through the briars and brambles of a dark creek bottom.  His success that night is still the finest display of trailing I’ve ever personally observed.

Is Larry’s success an example of backtracking?  No.  Think of backtracking as striking the trail of the same wounded animal and working backward to find where he was wounded and then all the way back to where he woke up that morning!  That’s backtracking and it, like your family history, can be very challenging.

footprints

I call my blog “Backtracking the Common”.   I’m discovering most of the family in my past were common, salt-of-the-earth kind of people.  They’re not just my kind of people — they’re my people.

Backtracking the common is much more difficult than backtracking the famous. 

I grew up with absolutely no knowledge of my great-grandfather Roberts.  I “cut his trail” (came across evidence of where he had been) in 2012 and backtracked him from Lamar County, Texas to Calloway County, Kentucky.  I learned the name of his father.  Like his, it was John.  From there I backtracked them to Williamson County, Tennessee and learned my great-great-grandfather shared the same name with his father—yep, John again.  I had to learn how to distinguish the “track” of my great-great-grandfather John R. Roberts from his cousin John D. Roberts who also lived in Williamson in the early 1800s.  From Williamson County I backtracked my 3 x great-grandfather John Roberts (That’s right, same first and last name with an unknown middle name or initial) to Lunenburg County, Virginia.  I’m presently comparing the “tracks, broken twigs, and overturned rocks” of THREE John Roberts in the area, near the same age, in the middle-to-late 1700s!  Difficult and tedious are two words that come to mind.  This may take some time.

Backtracking John Roberts sometimes feels like backtracking a John Smith.

Here are a few suggestions for backtracking your common kin folks.

  1. Stay focused. Avoid of the “shiny objects”.  Stay focused on the next “track”.
  2. Set attainable and reachable goals. Make your plans to accomplish your goals and stick to the plan.
  3. Understand you may need to learn about the lives of your kin’s family, associates and neighbors to follow the trail of your ancestor. I now know most of the family names in southern Williamson County, TN and northeastern Lunenburg County, VA.
  4. Let others help you. Taking the time to read this post is an example of seeking help in your research process.  There’s an abundance of excellent free help on today’s internet when it comes to researching family history.  When you need it, take advantage of it.
  5. Refuse to allow difficulty to overcome your desire to learn and tell your family’s story.
  6. Take a break when you need it. Switch family lines or stop all together.  Recharge your emotional and mental batteries and then pick up the trail!

Happy backtracking!

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What is your all-time favorite tip for “backtracking” your family’s history?

Did you see this great tip from Amy Johnson Crow?

Aside

Backtracking the Common’s goal is to encourage and assist you in backtracking and telling your family’s story.  Losing your ancestor’s trail or constantly getting sidetracked by the “shiny objects” of genealogy can be discouraging.  How do we avoid being overwhelmed by this discouragement?

Professional Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow addresses this question in her August 2 post.  I can highly recommend you read it and be encouraged as well as instructed.  Thanks Amy!

Click on Amy’s title below and enjoy a good read.

How to Avoid Genealogy Overwhelm 

Share Your Family’s Exciting Past. Here’s the Why and How.

“One of the most pitiful sights in the world is that of a grown man who has lost all recollection of his past…A school, a state, a nation or a society that has forgotten its own past, that knows no more the great sources of its own vigor, stands in desperate peril.”[i]

Your family story matters.  The ability to pass it on is the power to reorient and anchor a life and the collective life of a family.  It gives light, purpose and understanding.  It explains and empowers.

Chase, Chandler and Clayton Collins at their 4 x great-parents Pleasant Wesley & Rachel Marinda Byrd’s grave in Chico, Texas in 2012.

The ancients in oral cultures used the term “remember”.  They set up sign posts, memorials which pointed to and explained the past.  Fathers and mothers were instructed to recount and remind their children of their past, not simply their lives but the lives of those who went before them.  The goal was to establish “connection” in each generation to their God and their progenitors, to know their vision and values, to understand and restate their goals as a people.

Aubrey and Camy Roberts at their 3x great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts grave in Little Vine Cemetery near Sumner, TX in Lamar County

Aubrey and Camy Roberts at the grave of their 3 x great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts in Lamar County, Texas in 2016

 

My appeal as an old man is NOT for a return to “old-fashioned” ways and practices.  I’m much more interested in function than I am formI urge you to consider this appeal.  We need not convince our children and grandchildren to turn-back-the-clock and give up their mobile devices, dress in a previous fashion, worship in particular ways or spaces, give up their vehicles for horses, enjoy the piano only music of the 19th century beer halls and churches or the organ music of the 20th century vaudeville theaters, etc.  God-seeking parents can demonstrate and encourage their children and grandchildren to seek God.  Freedom loving Americans can demonstrate and encourage their children and grandchildren to love freedom.  These driving values of early Americans may constantly be renewed and understood.

When our families know their past, they’re better able to walk into their future.  When they understand God-given rights, they understand their freedom to choose how they respond to their family’s unique history and their nation’s call.

 ge·ne·al·o·gy

a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.

  • the study and tracing of lines of descent or development.
  • a plant’s or animal’s line of development from earlier forms.

My genealogy journey is just over four years in duration.  The serious research of my family’s history began in 2012.  I do not consider myself a genealogist.  I’m a family historian using the proof standards of the genealogist to discover and recover my family’s past.  My goal is not simply uncovering lines of descent but uncovering lives and telling their storiesI expect their impact to inform, entertain, encourage and inspire.  If I do it well.

Our third son Chris recently asked me, “Dad, what is it about you and all of this family history stuff?”  Fair question.  The kind of question I would expect from this child.  He grew up and began his own family before he ever heard his father speak of genealogy.  Now…well…you understand.  Most of you have seen the glassy stare or family members or watched them roll their eyes as you shared simple or fascinating facts about their ancestorYou’ve seen them express more interest in discussing today’s reality “stars” or some fictional characters in a book than real people from their rich past with whom they share DNA.

What is it about me and all of this family history stuff?

  • I’ve always been naturally curious, enjoyed a good mystery, and loved history.
  • I’ve lived a very busy life. I’ve had considerable demands on my time and like everyone else, I needed to prioritize.  I’ve lived long enough now to see the end.  I have little time left to recover and record my family’s past.  I need to prioritize.
  • I’ve lived most of my life with little knowledge of my family and our history, our story. I felt no connection.  I knew nothing of the “source of our vigor”.  Our story is in peril.

Hundreds of genealogists and thousands upon thousands of family historians know exactly what I mean.  You understand the pull of “all this family history stuff”.  What shall we do?  What do we do with the facts we’ve recovered?  How do we connect them to the present?

How do we tell our family’s story?

Caleb Roberts family at Jeremiah Horn grave in Collin County June 19, 2016 (2)

The Caleb Roberts family at the grave of his 4 x great-grandfather Jeremiah Horn in Collin County, Texas 2016

If our goal is to present a true and accurate family picture, good research must always precede good writing.  If we’re going to present fables as facts, we need not “waste our time” doing the hard research.  Simply write the fables. If you choose however to do the hard research and wish to accurately portray these facts, think about the kind of writing which holds your attention.  Read it.  Practice writing it.  Take your known facts and write in that fashion.

Four suggestions for writing your family stories:

  1. Have something to share. Do the work.  Do the necessary research.  Know the family facts and the history surrounding those facts.
  2. Connect your family’s stories to their times. Intermingle well-known historical facts and people with the stories of your family.  Provide the context.  Connect your family dots by telling a story.
  3. Grab their attention. Use a quote, question, statement or mystery.  Dare them not to keep reading.  Of course, some may not!
  4. If you want to be interesting, serve your readers and listeners. Always keep them and their interests in mind as you write or form the stories you’ll tell.

Some practical ways to involve our families in their history.

Family FeudFamily Feud.  Our immediate family consists of seven grown children and their families.  (Yes, same mother, same father) At our Christmas gathering we play a game I’ve shamelessly stolen and named “Family Feud”.  The teams consist of the seven family units.  They’re playing for the order in which a set of gift cards will be selected from off of the tree, 1 – 7.  I prepare a power point series of slides with questions about our family’s history.  Photos or historical documents are often used.  Points accumulate for each correct answer and are tallied up when all the slides are revealed.  The top scoring family selects first and so on down the list.

Crew at BL's gravesite

Ashton and Mia Armstrong at the grave of their great-grandfather B.L. Roberts in Denton County, Texas in 2013. Mia is my biggest blog reader and wonders why I don’t write more about my grandchildren.

Begin an online Blog.  Don’t cringe.   We live in a written and visual culture.  Free blogs are available and easily accessible.[ii]  Blogs allow you free space online to share your thoughts and make them available to groups of people or to a broader public.  It’s an inexpensive way to make any or all of your research accessible to your family.  My grown children spend very little time on my blog.  (There is an uptick near Christmas.)  My grandchildren are beginning to access the blog some – and some more than others.  The reality– our families may never care about our family stories the way we do.  But a free blog means that when we’re dead and gone, the research will be easily available online if they decide to access it.

Tell Stories.  As you discover new facts about your family, think about an interesting way to introduce these facts in an exciting story-form.  Look for opportunities to share these little vignettes with your family members.

Take Trips.  Plan “family history tours” with you children or grandchildren.  They may be half day, one day or multiple day trips.  Visit places of family significance, cemeteries where you have family buried, history museums, libraries, research centers, etc.  Do grave marker etchings.  Be prepared and always tell stories as you go.

Mom interview 5 006

Ashley, Camy and Aubrey interview their great-grandmother Bertha Mae Byrd Roberts in 2016

Interview older family members.  Involve your children or grandchildren in the process.  Set an example with your questions.  Then, allow them to ask questions.  Capture the event in photos and on video.  Make these videos available on free resources such as YouTube.  If you need help with the technical side of things, ask your children or grandchildren to help you do it!

Invite your family members to write a guest blog on you site.

Publish sections of family timelines and pass them out at gatherings.

Have family members re-enact episodes of your family’s story.

These are a few of the ways to bring our families into the process.  Use the comment section and share some of your ideas to involve our families.

My grandfather Gus Roberts grew up in the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas.  His lack of knowing or an unwillingness to tell his family’s story almost ended the knowledge of our past.  Backtracking this family has opened up the rich and diverse history of our multiple family lines.  The nuggets continue to be mined from our family’s story and their value is incalculable.

I wish for you this same joy.  I encourage you to follow this blog.  Sign up to the receive free updates.  Never stop learning.  Be inspired!

Happy backtracking!

Gary Roberts 

[i] From a plaque which once hung in the Museum of the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas.  Author is unknown to me.  Sara Bell called my attention to the pictures online.  http://masonichome-exstudents.org/

[ii] https://wordpress.com/  https://googleblog.blogspot.com/  https://www.blogger.com/

A Genealogy Gold Mine in North Texas

What kind of grandfather drags his grandchildren to multiple cemeteries and calls it fun?  What kind of family historian allows the fear of a little traffic congestion keep him from a genealogical gold mine?  What kind of person never stops interviewing his aged mother and gets rewarded with a story he’s never heard?  That would be me, guilty on all counts and hoping you benefit from my experiences.

Let’s answer that second question. Continue reading

Summer Fun and Tips for Your Genealogy

What kind of grandfather drags his grandchildren to multiple cemeteries and calls it fun?  What kind of family historian allows the fear of a little traffic congestion keep him from a genealogical gold mine?  What kind of person never stops interviewing his aged mother and gets rewarded with a story he has never heard?  That would be me, guilty on all counts and hoping you benefit from my experiences. Continue reading

Paying Attention to Details in Your Family Research

“God is in the detail” or “The devil is in the details”.  Both expressions infer the same thing.  Details are important and those attentive to them are rewarded.  The details of our family history research are a rich source of information and clues to find additional gold. Continue reading